You need a mentor to get you from where you are now as a photographer to your next level. Simply put, a mentor will get you there quicker.
You can find your photographic mentor in many places. They may be teaching photography for a local photography school or providing workshops at some distant location. They may be a friend, or a professional photographer that works around the corner. Mentors are everywhere. Good ones are harder to find.
The most important thing it to make sure you choose a good one. This may be through a process of trial and error, or through a dedicated search. A mentor might be good for one person, and indifferent with another. So what follows are my tips and suggestions in what to look for in your photographic mentor, who is going to take your photography to new heights.
Positive and encouraging. Your new mentor has to be positive. It will be soul destroying if you find a negative one. Someone who puts your work down. Spends all their time telling you about your mistakes and failures. What you need is a person who can help you identify your own strengths, someone who shows you where you are going right. Encourages you. Someone for whom you want to show up to your next meeting with you latest stunning work. Yes, they need to do error correction, and show you how to fix things. But it is more important that they tell you what you are doing right with your photography.
Inspiring. The mentor you choose needs to be someone who inspires you. This inspiration will motivate you. They should inspire you with the work that they are producing. Ideally, they will be producing work you would like to learn to do. You choose someone whose work you admire so that you can get into their head, and figure out how they do things. The quickest way to learn from them is to copy their thought processes. You may even practice their style and techniques. You could even copy their work, though it would be wrong of you to pass on this work as your own. But as a learning experience, it is highly recommended.
Critical. They need to have developed a critical eye. They need to have an eye for good taste, for good technique and fantastic photographs. You will know they have a critical eye when you look at their work. It needs to be outstanding.
Experienced. Good mentors are experienced, they have mentored other people. They come with recommendations. They have a well worn path to their door that was put there by people before you who were looking for their advice, support and direction. Find people who have been mentored and find out who they recommend. Get references, search, question and find the mentor who is experienced and talented.
Facilitating. A good mentor facilitates your growth. They help you find your own direction. They point you to the answers. They teach you how to solve your own problems. They want you to become self sufficient. They help you problem solve your photography. They don’t just lecture you, they ask questions, pose problems, offer advice and give direction. If they talk non stop they aren’t facilitating your growth, they are lecturing you.
Sets directions and goals. A good mentor helps you set your photographic goals and directions. They guide you into projects that are realistic, achievable, measurable, time framed, and rewarding. They help you set projects that create physical objects that you can share with your family and friends. Something that you can look at regularly so that you are constantly reminded of how good your photography can be. A good mentor helps you plan your next weeks or months work out, so that the next time you meet with them you have new work to discuss with them.
Flexible. An outstanding mentor will be flexible and will follow you on your new directions. If you set out to photograph flowers, and discover you are brilliant at photographing people you mentor needs to be able to help you with this new discovery rather than be upset or forcing you to keep photographing flowers. Their job is to make you shine, and produce fantastic images.
Confronts. Your mentor needs to push you. They need to give you a shove and a gentle kick when you need it. They aren’t afraid of saying things as they are or how they see them. They do this in a carefully constructed way that positive and supportive. Careless words have no place in the mentoring relationship.
Respected. It may be obvious that they need to be respected, but is it so obvious that you need to respect them. Choose a mentor you can respect. You should listen carefully to what they say and what they have to offer you and ultimately your photography.
My best mentors did all of these things. And within that framework I grew and blossomed into an amazing photographer. Ultimately it was me that did all the hard work. It is wrong of you to expect them to be doing the work. You are the one they are helping grow. They need to plant the seeds of inspiration into your mind, then nurture it with encouragement, support and direction. You are the one that does the growing, and you are the one who shall harvest the rewards. And when you are done, celebrate them with your mentor so they can help you sow the next seeds on inspiration.
If you want to take your photography to the next level, well in my opinion the easiest way there is to go find yourself an outstanding mentor.